I watched an interesting thing on YouTube about the history of Japan on my lunch break today, and in doing so, I discovered something really interesting. It was Americans that kind of forced Japan’s hand and caused them to open up after several centuries of self imposed isolation.
Japan has always struck me as a really interesting mix, but I haven’t been able to figure out why. It is almost as if they would like nothing more than to retreat back into their period of isolation, but can’t. There’s this odd combination of enthusiastic assimilation of Western culture, and a seeming cultural fear of getting subsumed by it. I wonder sometimes if that leads to a kind of schizophrenic view of western people – on the one hand, an admiration and respect, but on the other, a kind of subconscious understanding that we represent an existential threat to everything their culture ever stood for. Some Japanese seem to resent westerners, and I wonder if even for good reason, to be honest.
I think we westerners, though, don’t really help. Many tourists go to Japan without ever bothering to learn even the most minimal of Japanese – forcing them to learn English if they want our sweet, sweet tourist dollars. Japanese is a difficult language, and of course it’s not reasonable to expect any tourist who goes there to be fluent. It would, however, be a great gesture of respect to learn the basics. Even the most minimal of effort goes a long way.
Many tourists also go to Japan without understanding Japanese history and our role in it. Japan is a very modern country in many ways, but it’s not America. They just see the world differently. That’s not to say their way of seeing the world is better – it is in some things, ours is in others – but it’s different. And every American who goes to Japan without understanding, or caring to understand, those cultural differences makes another Japanese person who thinks we’re baka gaijin – and perhaps rightfully so. Logan Paul is one example, but there are others.
I don’t always like Japanese culture. But I try to at least understand it, and the roles my ancestors have had in its evolution. It can be ugly. Very ugly, in fact. But mine was no better. There are many things in my culture that we are still trying to work through today. Japanese culture is no different. I just hope we can learn to respect each other more than we do.